LIFE, HER LEGEND
From: The Star
- 28 July 2000
for something unusual? A taste of the exotic? Like a little bit
of decadence and trash? Then you can do no better than watch Metamorphosis,
The Remarkable Journey of Granny Lee.
as the tale of a Coloured man, who died and was buried as a white
woman, this is a whole lot more than that. It's a sublimely tacky,
frivolously profound portrait of a woman who was both of these things,
by Underdog, one of South Africa's most inventive and intelligent
production houses, Metamorphosis is an outrageous piece of work
- thanks to its subject: Johannesburg's most famous clubgoer and
drag queen and an idol of the underground. It should have arrived
wound in a feather boa.
Lee is dead, Long live Granny Lee. That might as well be the tagline
for the documentary, which traces the life of a real character against
the very important backdrop of apartheid. Granny Lee was, after
all, born Coloured. Her choices, as a result, were extremely limited
and teaching was one of the few options open to a gifted Coloured
man. But that was not enough and once Leonard Christian Du Plooy
had discovered the wild pleasures of Durban, he would never look
back again. His childhood in Kimberley was put behind him, and when
he finally moved to Johannesburg and unveiled the decadence of club
life in the guise of a white woman, his persona was complete.
documentary uses several key devices to tell the story, which is
in itself, heavily layered with sociopolitical meaning. Of the devices,
the dramatizations are the weakest. It's not clear why the producers
decided to opt for this method of depicting Granny Lee when the
interviews with friends, associates and family are almost sufficient
to go some way to revealing the torment, the love, the passion,
the lust, the ingrate, the generous soul.
footage of places Granny inhabited and defined as her own as well
as the photographs and footage of Granny in here septuagenarian
heyday are, however, the strongest images and Underdog, typically,
has a mesmerizing way of using these on screen. Somehow, when one
melds these together, a much clearer picture emerges of a woman
whose heart was not always in the right place but whose extreme
turns at transformation were ahead of her time.
Metamorphosis is about gender and race and, as Underdog says, about
the notion of "created identity". South Africa's most famous drag
queen is Evita Bezuidenhout, although very few of us regard Evita
in that light. Like Dame Edna, she is a celebrity without the trappings
of role-playing to inhibit her position in society.
was not the case with Granny Lee - mostly because she existed in
relative shadow. Only the people who came out at night, without
prejudice about race or sexual preference, really knew she was there.
It was time that her legend was exposed to a wider audience, which
is why Metamorphosis is important as another piece in the puzzle
of our past.